Played on the PlayStation 4, Need for Speed Rivals is a more visually impressive, though currently slightly more buggy, version of Electronic Arts' upcoming racer than the Windows PC version.
We spent the first part of our session playing the PC version of Rivals, which ran well, with a PlayStation 4 controller. Later, we switched to the PS4 version and were surprised to find a game that looked even more impressive than its PC counterpart, with better texture detail, improved lighting on cars and sharper graphics overall. The PS4 version did suffer from a higher incidence of issues such as parts of the world failing to load, but developer Ghost Games assured us they would have those problems ironed out in time for launch.
Developer Ghost Games' key point at its most recent press event, though, was that you don't have to play the game with other people online. The developers just really want you to.
Ghost is attempting to deliver a new kind of racing game, one that dissolves the line between single-player and multiplayer gaming. The world of Rivals still contains the standard Need for Speed campaign, although it's split up into two roles, racer and cop. But as you're driving around Rivals' fictional, California-inspired setting of Redview County, other players can seamlessly appear in your game and play with you — or against you.
The developers at Ghost Games believe that this system, which they call AllDrive, will make for a better Need for Speed title — if players just give it a shot.
"First and foremost, this game is made to be able to [be] played alone — the AI's really capable, [and the game has] scaling systems," said Marcus Nilsson, executive producer on Rivals, in an interview with Polygon following a recent hands-on demo of the game. "There's a lot of people, Need for Speed consumers, that want to play alone, and there's a very capable game to play alone out there that they can do."
Rivals "becomes a lot more fun when you do play with friends"
Nilsson noted that he previously worked on Battlefield titles at EA DICE, and acknowledged that his vision of online games might be colored by that experience. But that is indeed Nilsson's vision, and he pointed out that Rivals' interface — which doesn't require users to choose a separate "multiplayer" option from a menu — encourages players to try out AllDrive rather than dismiss it out of hand. (Rivals does offer the option to turn off AllDrive for an entirely solo experience, or limit the pool of users to people on your friends list.)
"I do think that this game becomes a lot more fun when you do play with friends," said Nilsson. "It's an easier proposition to give it a chance in this game than it was in, for instance, [Need for Speed] Most Wanted, where you had to press the multiplayer button." And the only limit to AllDrive is players' imaginations, according to Nilsson. Ghost expects users to collaborate and compete in ways the studio hasn't even considered, but one example Nilsson gave was the way in which AllDrive facilitates play between people who are at different levels in the game.
Rivals features a gradual progression upward for both racers and cops, with players unlocking new cars and abilities as they earn speed points and rank up through 20 levels. If you're a level 5 racer, and you're having trouble with a race that you need to complete in order to jump to level 6, you can call in some assistance from a friend who's a level 15 cop, having her impede your competition so you can zoom to a first-place finish. Of course, there's also the potential for griefing, but as Nilsson sees it, that's part of what makes Rivals so unique and enjoyable.
there's also the potential for griefing
"It is really a lot more fun because of the, kind of, controlled chaos and the unexpected [gameplay] that AllDrive brings. When you mix people together [...] you can take educated choices that make my game experience more interesting. So I think the human element is really giving you a lot more flavor in the experience," Nilsson explained.
"What we start seeing is people yelling out about having fun, and screaming out [while] playing at the office," he added, noting that that's something that rarely, if ever, happened during the development of Shift 2 Unleashed and Need for Speed Most Wanted. "We made a game, made a really high-quality game, but we didn't have that unexpected fun that AllDrive's bringing."
We checked out the cop's side of the career mode, taking on events like timed sprints from point to point and exercises in which we had to take down some racers. In addition to the human players that AllDrive brings in, you'll see plenty of activity in Redview County from computer-controlled cars. While we were driving casually through the world, a cop and a racer locked in a high-speed chase flew past us at an intersection. It's those kinds of spontaneous interactions that bring the world of Rivals to life, and that was even before another player joined us.
The two of us met at the starting point for an event, then sped off to bust some racers. We were doing fine in co-op by ourselves, and then Rivals developers in the room provided some assistance from the game's mobile app through a mode called Overwatch. They were connected to our game, and dropped in a shock wave that we were able to unleash on an unsuspecting racer. (The app stopped working at this point, so we didn't get the chance to try it out ourselves.)
We enjoyed our time with Rivals, and as a launch title for both next-generation consoles, the game will likely be a great showcase for the power of the new systems. AllDrive is something that will be impossible to judge until after Rivals is released, but the seamless integration that we saw during our limited demo could provide a great new way to progress faster through your solo career while playing with your friends.